Take advantage of discount licences

Before stumping up the full retail price for software, check you don’t qualify for a discount-licensing scheme. There are massive savings to be made for people who are in, or who have children in, full-time education. Adobe CS3 Design Premium Student Edition costs £246 on, for example, while the full version is a stonking £1,656. Don’t be tempted to cheat, though – Adobe requires proof of student ID before dishing out the licence key, and it can’t be used for commercial purposes.

Manufacturers also offer enormous incentives for repeat custom via upgrades. Professional design software AutoCAD LT 2009 costs £1,233 from, while the upgrade costs £546.

Some upgrade versions of consumer software are less enticing – McAfee Internet Security Suite 2008 is a mere 52p cheaper than the full version on Amazon. And remember, such software usually comes with three licences, so you don’t buy new versions for every PC you own.

There is also the thorny issue of OEM software. It’s intended for system builders, and Microsoft officially discourages end users installing it, but such software is freely available. The Vista Ultimate SP1 32-bit OEM version costs £108 on, while the full retail software costs £212.

Up to £1,410, by buying the student licence of CS3.

Use WINE 1.0

WINE is an application that can ease the transition to Linux if you’ve decided to save money by abandoning paid-for Microsoft operating systems. Standing for “WINE Is Not an Emulator”, it allows you to run Windows applications on a Linux system.

Now’s a good time to start using WINE since, after being in development (and common use) for around 15 years, version 1.0 was finally released in June. The drawback is that most Windows applications have some problems running on WINE. Microsoft Office 2007, for instance, is on WINE’s “silver” list for application compatibility – it runs with “minor issues that do not affect typical usage”. But if you use Photoshop CS2, you’re in luck: it’s rated as platinum – it runs flawlessly.

£140, if you run your Windows apps on Linux rather than buying a copy of Vista Home Premium.

Shop around before buying direct

Downloading software directly from the manufacturers’ websites often costs the same as a boxed copy or, sometimes, may be even dearer (we’re looking at you, Adobe). You’ll often find better prices if you look at wholesale retailers such as PC World. For example, at the time of writing Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 cost £100 from Microsoft, but just £80 from PC World; while Vista Home Premium was £140, down from Microsoft’s £170.

£30 off the cost of Windows Vista Home Premium.

Sign up for Microsoft’s Action Pack

For IT professionals, the £200 Microsoft Action Pack is seriously good value. It includes regularly updated copies of most of its professional software, including Office 2007, Vista Ultimate, Exchange Server 2007 and Server 2008.

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